August 2, 2008

Flightseeing Kenai & the Harding Icefield

We met our friend Chip Versaw at the Kenai Airport, just south of Capt Cook State Park, early one morning to do a little flightseeing over the area. Chip runs the only flight school on the Peninsula, and currently has three airplanes and a dozen students.

Ceilings were low and there was limited visibility with some fog, so Chip suggested flying southeast towards the Harding IceField where conditions were better...sounded great to us, so off we went.

Our route took us south to the town of Slodotna where we picked up the Kenai River, eastward to it's origin, Skilak Lake up the magnificant Skilak Glacier, southward across the top of the Icefield intercepting Tustumena Glacier westward to Tustumena Lake which flows into the Kasilof River which we followed all the way out to Cook Inlet. We then flew along the beach back up to Kenai and the airport.
It was interesting to see all the commercial fishing rigs anchored in the lower part of the Kenai. The season on Sockeye was closed early to commercial fishing due to low escapement numbers entering the River (the number of fish needed for an adequate spawn).

But that didn't stop the sport fishing, as shown here at the site near the Soldotna Airport that I had fished just a day or two before.

Flying eastward we pass along the side of beautiful Skilak Lake, the source of water for the Kenai River, and the final spawning destination of most of the salmon coming up the River.

Our first view of the moraine area of the Skilak Glacier was breathtaking....the ice just seemed to stretch out before us forever!

Where the Glacier first melted, and met the small deep blue above, a stunning contrast between ice & water was right below us. It was particularly interesting to see the differences in the surface of the ice as we flew up the glaciers. The emense pressures created by huge masses of ice above crack & grind the surface, forming many large fissues & pockets.

A little farther and we find ourselves gazing ahead at the entire length of the Skilak Glacier. To put things in perspective, the Gulf of Alaska is now ahead of us, with Seward far off to our left.

As we cruise along, we approach the center of the enormous Harding Icefield and begin to notice tops of tall peaks popping up through the snow & ice, here & there, with cupped shaped depressions along there sides formed by the severe winds that can howl across the ice plane.

We're amazed at the simple beauty found below in the form of massive cracks in the ice surface, surrounded by snowdrifts that seem to soften the steepness of each crevice.

Farther south we reach the start of the Tustumena Glacier, which we will fly westward to return to the Inlet....

The lower portion of the Tustumena appears very different from it's cousin, the Skilak. Hundreds of ridgelines cover it's surface, as huge pressures force ice & debris to collide and heave upwards!

We drop down low to this craggy surface, zooming across the ice at a hundred miles an hour and soon reach the terminal melting area, with Tustumena Lake stretching far in the distance...

As we fly along the southern edge of the Lake, we notice a few isolated fishing camps that can only be reached by water or, what a destination!

Soon we are over the Kasilof, home to many sport fisherman, and thousands of Sockeye & Slivers each year. We fly it's winding path back to Cook Inlet, where we are met by low ceilings and fog, but return safely to the Kenai Airport after another wonderful adventure in ALASKA!